The UN has accused both sides in the conflict in the Central African Republic of committing crimes against humanity. Meanwhile the government has come up with a four-point plan to restore peace and stability.
Murder, rape, attacks on children, displacement on a massive scale. A new United Nations report submitted to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the Security Council accuses both sides in the conflict in Central African Republic (CAR) - Seleka and the anti-balaka militia - of committing crimes against humanity. The report which was seen on Thursday (05.06.2014) by news agency AFP says there is "ample evidence" of this. The UN commission of enquiry which has been investigating since January this year said, however, it was too early to speak of genocide or ethnic cleansing.
More than a year after the outbreak of violence in Central African Republic, the country remains tense. The political battle for power as well as the fighting between different groups within the population for the country's scarce resources has escalated into a religious conflict between Christians and Muslims. In April 2014 the UN Security Council voted to send a 12,000-strong peace mission to the country but this will probably not begin before September.
Interim President Samba-Panza believes in the power of dialogue
At present, there are some 6,000 troops of the African Union's International Support Mission (MISCA) as well as 2,000 troops of the French Sangaris operation. According to Sangaris commander Francisco Soriano, the French troops will begin their withdrawal in mid-September.
Jobless young men easy prey for the militias
Meanwhile, the government in the capital Bangui has taken measures to stem the violence. The main tool is a new four-point plan, details of which were given to DW by Jose Messango at the CAR Ministry for Reconciliation. Top priority is to ensure that the population is informed about matters relating to security, criminal prosecution, peace and reconciliation. Interim President Catherine Samba-Panza stressed on taking office in January 2014 that there would be no impunity for crimes committed. "We will also seek to strengthen dialogue with the armed groups who are responsible for the insecurity in the country," she said. Efforts were to be made to get the younger population on board, as it is is generally unemployed young men who are recruited by the various militia gangs.
The third point in the plan is to seek to reduce the animosity between the Christian and Muslim religious communities. Fourthly, dialogue with internally displaced persons and with refugees who have left the country should begin without delay.
In the last few days Prime Minister Andre Nzapayeke has been energetically seeking talks with the leaders of various districts in Bangui. He also intends to inform young people directly about the new plan.
'Without security there can be no reconciliation'
Thibaud Lesueur, an expert on CAR with the International Crisis Group, welcomes the plan but does have some reservations. "We must ask what concrete effect such a plan can have, since - at the moment - the fighting and killing are continuing," he said.
It should also not be forgotten that about a quarter of the population have fled their homes. "This will be a very long process," Lesueur concluded.
In his view the main priority must be to restore security in the country. "Without security, there can be no reconciliation," said Lesueur. He argues that any reconciliation program also has to be adapted to suit individual regions and circumstances. "Conditions differ throughout the country, conflicts are often restricted to certain regions," he told DW. For example, in the town of Bria in the east of the country, Muslims and Christians live together without any major problems. But "in the west Muslims suffer extreme persecution."
Like Prime Minister Nzapayeke, the ICG expert criticises the fact that certain elements within the government, which includes members of both Seleka and anti-balaka, are themselves involved in the violence. "They are pulling the strings and have no interest in peace returning to the country," said Lesueur. This underlines the need for the government and international forces to include everyone in the efforts for peace. This includes the armed groups who should be encouraged to "create internal structures so that they can be considered reliable dialogue partners."
Short text messages banned
In addition to the four-point plan, the CAR government has also banned text messaging. They had been used, for example, to call on people to take part in anti-government demonstrations which practically brought the country to a standstill.
For Marcel Mokoapi, president of the Central African consumer association, this is an attack on freedom of opinion. "It is madness to ban text messages," he said in an interview with DW. Cellphone users were taken by surprise.
Cellphone users were taken unawares by the ban on text messages
Sylvain, who was only willing to give his first name, has four mobile phone contracts. "When nothing worked, I first thought it was the usual network problems," he said. "But then I heard that the authorities have banned text messages. That really surprised me." Another man, who wished to remain anonymous, is angry that the ban came without any warning. "I don't understand it. If it's meant to stop the incitement that goes on all the time here, that's OK. But the ban came too suddenly."
Consumer protection bodies and human rights activists are planning to draw up a response to the ban in the next few days.
Author Dirke Köpp / sh
Editor Mark Caldwell